Saturday, December 30, 2023

Geeky SKAturday: Sell Out (Reel Big Fish)'s the first new sound to be invoked by a character of the Rudie class!

This one comes courtesy of Reel Big Fish.  I think RBF has a bit of a "love 'em or hate 'em" reputation among ska fans due to their pop-punk approach and general jokey nature, neither of which sit well with some ska purists out there.

On the other hand, they're catchy as hell and a lot of fun.  To some listeners, they are probably THE ska band.  And then to some listeners, they're hated because they are THE stereotype of late-90s ska punk.

I like 'em.  A lot.  And while I've become a bigger fan of ska that's more traditional than their poppy riffs, RBF's album Turn the Radio Off was definitely part of my gateway into the genre as a whole, so I like having this one to kick off this feature.

Okay, enough talk...

Image from HERE
Sell Out
1st-level Sound

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
Duration: 1 hour

You attempt to make a single decision that is being considered by a creature you can see within range.  The creature must be capable of reasoning and having a belief that it is the correct decision (even if it's outlandish).  The creature makes a single Wisdom saving throw.  If it fails, it will make the decision you choose and believe that it is the correct decision for the duration of the sound.  When the sound's effect ends, the creature will be able to reason normally regarding the topic.

At Higher Levels: When you invoke this sound using a sound slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 1st.  The creatures must be within 30 feet of each other when you target them.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas!! (To Cobra too!)

Merry Christmas, all!!

I was going to have a post today about this vintage Santa toy/decoration from my childhood, and how I discovered a world of similar products when I tried to track one of them down.

However...after seeing this fantastic brick-animated G.I. Joe short on Reddit ("Operation Christmas Wish") by user SPNKLR, I knew I should just share it instead.  Enjoy, and have a great holiday!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Geeky SKAturday: The Rudie class for OGL gaming

The Specials from Michael Ochs Archive, stolen from The Guardian

Okay, how to explain the "why" of this one...?

Around 25 years ago, I was obsessed with ska and dreamed about (1) playing in a ska band, and (2) creating a ska zine, as there were some that I absolutely loved at the time (Ska-tastrophe, anyone?).  I did the first but never the second.  I did think about it a lot, though...what my angle could be to stand out...maybe a specific sub-subgenre to focus on or - inspired by seeing the punkrock/golf magazine Schwing! - maybe tackling ska plus some other topic of interest in the same zine. forward 20+ years.  Zines are on my radar again, but this time for RPGs rather than music.  At a show one night, I'm struck by how fun it my create a zine that combines ska and RPGs.  I enjoyed thinking about the possibility of filling out a world to game in with the characters, ideas, and conflicts found in many of the songs I like.  I mean, for a lot of us, I think at least a little part of ska's appeal is that it has narratives that accompany it, both within songs and in the more meta sense of the historical development of the genre.  It was easy for a geek like me to completely geek out on it (still is).  And once I started trying to dress the part, with a skinny black tie and some two-tone shoes...well, that isn't very far removed from cosplay, is it?

And this is as good a time as any to point out that where I'm going with all of this may be perceived as culturally tone deaf to some.  There's a lot of discussion to be had regarding the Jamaican musical diaspora and cultural appropriation.  When I dressed up as a "rude boy" in the sense of "one who loves ska," I was sort of cosplaying 70s British kids who were in turn cosplaying 60s Jamaican tough guys.  What do I know about growing up on the streets of Kingston?  (I'm a middle class American white guy, in case you don't know...)  At any rate...if someone wants to take up a dialogue regarding all of this, I'm certainly game!

The thing is...I do genuinely love this music, and this is a point upon which I'm willing to ignore some of my fears as an unashamed progressive in order to more fully take part in this thing that I love.

Okay, so...where was I?  Oh yes, a ska zine!  Well, there was no way I was going to end up following through on that in a meaningful way.  If you need proof of this, take a gander through my history on this blog and note all the projects I've begun with excitement only to abandon when the next "best idea ever" takes hold of me.  I don't regret them, as I love getting absorbed by ideas I enjoy.  But a lot of the time, I just don't get the results I start out hoping for.

However...I had started this little Geeky SKAturday "feature" (in that I posted it more than once) here at Monstrous Matters...and I could probably make something happen semi-regularly if it had a clear structure and goal.  And so, in 2024, I plan to make good on realizing my little ska/RPG crossover.  Most of it will probably just be posting songs I like and giving them a tenuous connection to game mechanics.  And it all starts here...with the Rudie character class.  (It's for the rules I'm formulating to be the "house system" here at MM...basically full - or very close to full - compatibility with the fifth edition of the world's most popular roleplaying game, with enough ambiguity that it can also be used in OSR approaches.)

I'd love to know what you think!  Unless you hate it.  No, actually...let me know if you hate it.  Either way, I hope I'll keep on wasting my time on it...!


HD: d8


Simple weapons

Any 3 musical instruments OR handguns and any 2 musical instruments

Any 3 skills




Cantrips Known

Sounds Known

Sound Slots per Spell Level




Soundcasting, Pick It Up






Ska’d for Life












Ability Score Improvement






Rudies can channel the energy and spirit of ska to affect the world in profound and arguably magical ways.  Specific capabilities are known as Sounds and follow the general rules of spellcasting by other classes.  Cantrips (0-level Sounds) and Sounds known per level are on the Rudie table (above).

Pick It Up

The upbeats give you life!  On your turn, you can use a bonus action to regain hit points equal to 1d8 + your Rudie level.

Once you use this feature, you must finish a short or long rest before you can use it again.


Ska’d for Life

[Rules still to come...lemme know if you have ideas, please...!]




Ability Score Improvement

When you reach 4th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

Sounds (examples):

A Message to You Rudy (Cantrip)You point your finger toward a creature within range and whisper a message. The target (and only the target) hears the message and can reply in a whisper that only you can hear.
You can cast this spell through solid objects if you are familiar with the target and know it is beyond the barrier. Magical silence, 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood blocks the spell. The spell doesn't have to follow a straight line and can travel freely around corners or through openings.

Ball of Fire (Cantrip) - You hurl a ball of fire at a creature or object within range. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 1d10 fire damage. A flammable object hit by this spell ignites if it isn't being worn or carried.


Okay...I hope to post some characters (and Sounds) as the weeks roll on...and maybe work them into the bigger Monstrousverse as far as I'm capable.  I'm gonna make as many Saturdays as I can into SKAturdays (your groans don't phase me, by the way).

Enjoy your holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 18, 2023

I've got a feeling this year's for me and you

Just one week to go before the big day!  Seven more sleeps till Christmas!

I'm gonna make this a bit of a holiday season catch-all post.  I actually have quite a bit I want to blurt out before the year is done.  Maybe.  If I have the mental endurance to get it all down.  Here goes... may recognize the source of the words in this post's title...the Pogues' classic holiday tune "Fairytale of New York."  I can't let the year pass without acknowledging the loss of a great soul just a few weeks back, the inimitable Shane MacGowan.

Image snagged from the Belfast Telegraph

Shane (I don't really think he'd mind my calling him Shane) was a poet extraordinaire, a brilliant observer of the human condition, and a man who owned his voice like no one else.

"Fairytale of New York" is one of the most beautiful of all Christmas songs and honestly maybe of ALL songs.  You don't hear it as much these days due to its inclusion of a homophobic slur.  And I really do get that; it's kind of grating to my lib ears every time I hear it.  And...well, I'm not even going to put a video of the song here because I'm afraid it'll offend someone.

I do recall reading a response from MacGowan about the controversy brought on by the line where he said something along the lines of "she's not a good person" (referring to the female character in the song who says the word).  (Note also that I haven't paused to find that source again, so I think I'm paraphrasing pretty accurately but may also be doing so incompletely.)

EDIT: Kelvin's comments (and link) below encouraged me to do a little digging to see if there is a "MacGowan-approved" edited version of the tune.  I haven't found that to be the case, BUT I did find the more complete quote (or a similar one) that I paraphrased above and though it was worth sharing (from HERE for one):

“The word was used by the character because it fitted with the way she would speak and with her character. She is not supposed to be a nice person, or even a wholesome person. She is a woman of a certain generation at a certain time in history, and she is down on her luck and desperate. Her dialogue is as accurate as I could make it, but she is not intended to offend! She is just supposed to be an authentic character and not all characters in songs and stories are angels or even decent and respectable. Sometimes characters in songs and stories have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the story effectively.”

I've come to think that this approach actually gets to the heart of the song's beauty, and indeed, the heart of what is so poetic about a lot of MacGowan's music.  He saw the flaws of humans and still told their stories with love and a recognition that we all have souls and dreams.  That's a perspective we could use more of.

He will be missed.

So what else is going on for Christmas?  Well, I just want to remind anyone reading this that they can go HERE to pick up a free holiday adventure about Santa's Elves fighting holiday abominations and trying to save Baby New Year.  So that's cool.  It was also written by me, so there's the caveat.
Reflecting on the various gaming items I've put out into the world, I think "In Bleakest Midwinter" has probably held up as one of the most useful and generally accessible.  In 2024, I hope to revisit it, "updating" as necessary and potentially altering the rules used/implied to fit in more with the system I'd like to adopt as a sort of "house system" for Monstrous Matters, a variation on the approach I started with my own fantasy heartbreaker way back when, and which will be connected to both 5E and OSR gaming.  Right now, I'm pretty drawn to the idea of a house system for the blog as one way of connecting the various threads I inevitably follow on here, no matter how much I try to focus on one thing.  So...we'll see how long it takes before this intention goes the same way as all the others...!

Pic from HERE, which also has a brief discussion of this little guy's Public Domain status
When I do make those changes, I also hope to spend a little bit of time exploring my own canon of holiday stories.  Justin's post over at Halls of the Nephilim on holiday adventures has a list I need to check (twice...har har har) to see if there are others I can fit into the same universe as the Elves of "In Bleakest Midwinter," and I'd love to build out a more complete mix of fiction to include.  This would obviously(!) start with the Rankin/Bass classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and stack up from there, with the first continuity explanation necessary probably being why everyone at the North Pole is such an a-hole in that story.  And does Krampus fit in?  A Christmas Carol?  The Ghostbusters' encounter with Ebenezer Scrooge?  The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special?  If I'm actually able to stick to a focus on the Monstrous Heartbreaker as a unifying system, it may be a lot of fun to explore this as a segment of...the Monstrousverse...?

At any rate...I hope you enjoy your holiday season, everyone!!

Thursday, December 14, 2023

This Day in Anthro History: The TMNT cartoon

Another goal in 2024: Regain some focus on posting "This Day in Anthro History" entries here at Monstrous Matters.  Not sure why, but I really dig this as a "feature" of the blog.  So, to get in that we go...

In arguably one of the biggest moments ever in anthro history, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was released (in syndication) on this date in 1987.

So much about this cartoon is just...classic.  Like this intro...

I'd say there's a very good chance that if this cartoon never came to be, I would not be spending my time on a "This Day in Anthro History" blog feature in 2023 and 2024.

So, yeah...this cartoon is a big deal.  I think there's a very good chance you'll agree...although probably not for that reason.  More for the fact that it was a part of making TMNT one of the biggest pop culture phenomena of its time...!

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Up for a game of Manaball?

Just want to note that I've made a little subpage here for Manaball, a casual Magic: The Gathering format that occurred to me at some point and that I'd like to promote if I can.  (There's a link up there, under the header.)

Made using the MTG Card Maker at MTG Cardsmith

Manaball was conceived of and first played several years ago.  I've enjoyed it.  (It even inspired a card game that I designed for a friend.)  I've tried to share it online a couple of can click HERE to see a reddit post, and I'm pretty sure I posted it to at least one forum...but it really never gained any traction.  I'm honestly not sure what it takes for a "silly" fan-made alternative format like this to catch on, but I'm sure the success stories of stuff like Oathbreaker, Horde Magic, and of course Commander plant a little seed of hope in my heart that this could catch on and I could find excited opponents.  It was actually realizing that Wacky Races, a format first shared online back in 2016, really blew up this year when it was presented on reddit by an enthusiast, that influenced my decision to give it a permanent home where folks might happen to run into it online (extremely awkward sentence, sorry).

If you DO play it...or if you just have thoughts/ideas/feelings associated with it...well, I'd love to hear all about it!

Hopefully more to come on this...



I've got some plans in the my head at least(!) alter my approach here at Monstrous Matters when the new year comes around.  There are some changes that I think will increase the chances that I'll accomplish some goals here on the blog.  One of those changes is that I'd like to focus more on the lives and adventures of some personal characters.  I is, at least in part, an appreciation of stories that brings us together over these topics, so I want to attempt to put more stories into the aether for others to find.

The first of those characters that I'm throwing into the mix is Sergiu Pijha.

I don't have an updated picture yet, but he looks a little like this...

Sergiu is a part of the Gruul Clans of Ravnica, and he and others from the Ghor-Clan make up the Gruul representative in the Perimeter District Manaball League.  I'll present his character stats soon...!

Monday, November 27, 2023

One day left on the TMNT RPG kickstarter...!

It seems clear that the campaign isn't in need of a signal boost from a tiny corner of the internet like mine...but it's still probably worth pointing out here that Palladium's Kickstarter for the new edition of their classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness RPG is down to about a day to go.  The effort has blown way, WAY past its $250,000 goal.  I mean, I guess it was obvious that this was gonna be a big one.

I didn't go in as high as I could...or even all that high, I suppose, relative to the pledges that show up on some of these tabletop Kickstarters...but I am pretty sure that this marks the most I've ever committed to a crowdfunded gaming product.  I couldn't resist at least adding on the good guy minis.  Or maybe I just didn't want to resist.

Getting hyped up for this makes me want to revisit some of the Action Anthro stuff I've occasionally touched upon here.  For's a 4d20 table to help create your crime-fighting team.

Or maybe it's time to create a little strike team for S.L.O.P.

Here's one.

His name is Kevin.


What?  Oh, no, it's Kevin Bachman.

Yeah, you don't want to make that other joke around Kevin...

Arrow points toward Kevin's badass S.L.O.P. tattoo.  Also, make sure to check out PeterBearFR's DeviantArt page, where I stole that awesome pig solder art from...and of course let me know if my theft is unappreciated and needs to be corrected.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

More evidence that Orcs revel in physical pain

NOTE:  This post is related to my exploration of the Fantaspora Hypothesis, a proposed explanation for the existence of similar humanoid species in countless fantasy settings.  The Fantaspora Hypothesis is a proposal that fantasy humanoids originated on our Earth as hominins that coexisted during the Paleolithic Era.  Because the description of humanoid species has been a much-debated point of potential racism in roleplaying games (indeed, they are often called races), and because many (perhaps most) modern humans have DNA indicating a hereditary relationship with actual archaic hominins, I'm afraid there could be stuff that comes across as offensive to some without my even realizing it.  If this is the case, I ask that you please don't assume ill intent, that you let me know, and that you give me a chance to think about it and make corrections as needed.  Thank you!

A Paleolithic Orc family unit

Background:  SCN9A is a gene that has been investigated for its impact on pain sensitivity in humans.  SCN9A encodes a sodium channel, which points to a potential (no pun intended) role in the transmission of nerve impulses.

A few years ago, an Orc variant of the gene (with three specific differences in sequence) was associated with higher pain sensitivity in data from hundreds of thousands of modern humans of British ancestry.

In other words, those of us who have this Orc gene feel more pain.

Find the full paper HERE.

What's new:  Researchers have experimentally connected the presence of the Orc sequence variants with a specific type of pain sensitivity in a set of Latin American Human subjects.  After sensitization with mustard oil, those with the Orc gene had a lower threshold for mechanical pain.

What it all means:  There are a few interesting takeaways from all of this.  One is that, while Orcs apparently evolved in Eurasia, these specific changes in DNA have been maintained most strongly in Humans with Native American ancestry.  Why is this?  Well, the jury's still out.  It does, however, appear that the presence of these genes in modern Humans is the result of mixing of earlier Orc and Human populations, and that they are not simply maintained from the time before Humans and Orcs split evolutionarily.

Orcs may have a higher sensitivity to mechanical pain.  Interestingly, this is the sort of pain that one could imagine would be most common in battle - the pain of being poked with things (vs. pain from heat or pressure).  Why this has occurred is yet to be determined, but the idea that Orcs may charge into battle ready to revel in...and perhaps even be motivated by...the pain that awaits them...well, this isn't too hard to believe, is it?

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Remembering Keith Giffen, 1952-2023

One of the creators most influential to my appreciation of superhero comics passed away this week, as the world lost Keith Giffen on Monday 10/9.  I first saw this on Bleeding Cool News, and it seems as if Rich Johnston may have been the first to report on it there.  Giffen is the creator of Ambush Bug and co-creator of Rocket Raccoon, Lobo, and Jaime Reyes.  Most crucially, Giffen had an unforgettable run taking the Justice League into uncharted territory during the Justice League International era, following the Legends crossover series.

Giffen at GalaxyCon Richmond in 2019, by John Manard, CC-BY-SA 2.0

In true BWAHAHAHA fashion, Giffen's family posted this to his Facebook page at his request:

What a blessing to be able to know this man's work.

The Justice League comics of Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, et al., are among the most beloved stories of my formative years as a fan of comic book superheroes.  While I was familiar with the Super Friends and aware that the JL of decades past had featured the heaviest hitters of the DC universe, as far as I knew, the Justice League was meant to be this ragtag band of misfits (to use a cliché) that struggled, argued, and threw out quip after quip while fighting the bad guys.  I can still remember purchasing Justice League #3 on a family trip and being carried away by it in the event that could easily be seen as a starting point for my existence as a comic book lifer.

Mr. Giffen was one of...if not THE...first comic book writer(s) whose name I actually knew.  His genius will live on through his creations and through the remarkable characterization he helped to give to the creations of many others.  He will be missed.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The Fantaspora Hypothesis

In my mundane life...meaning when I am not adventuring over a tabletop, or in my head, or maybe even out in the real world...I am a scientist.  Thus, when I think about fantastic settings, I tend to think about them in a way that's...well, I hesitate to call it scientific, but we could probably go with sciencey.

Couple this with one of my favorite conceits in fantasy tabletop gaming - that all worlds are connected and reachable from our own Earth - and a lot of how and why questions immediately present themselves.  Why are humans everywhere?  How do they even share some aspects of Earth culture, but clearly not all?  What about all these near-human species that also tend to show up a lot, sometimes with slight differences from the equivalent species on another world?  Etc.

The way I currently see it, there are a few broad categories of explanations here.

From Pixabay

First of all, these fantasy worlds might have come about in a way that was simply influenced by generic Western fantasy.  I think that Codehaven (C0d3H4v3n), from my hopefully-not-abandoned effort, is an example that leans this way a bit.  Somehow, through existence in a computer, or in a pocket universe created by a human, or...uh, something else, probably...the fantasy world has taken on clichés associated with fictional fantasy settings in our world.

Second - and this one can be connected to that first explanation - the fantasy world(s) might be an actual creation of the human mind in some way.  Here, I'm thinking of some stories that feature characters who find themselves in a realm they previously believed to be fictional.  The old D&D cartoon might fit this...or maybe something like the Japanese predecessor to Super Mario Bros. 2, Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, in which a family gets pulled into the fantastic environment of a book.

I guess the thing that differentiates this from the first category is that something like a fantasy world in a computer probably has an origin story that involves specific programming, and some rogue code, and maybe a magical event to fully set things in motion...while this second idea is more along the lines of consciousness and imagination creating reality by their own power.  It's really all connected, though.  Or, at least, it can be.  A high fantasy writer who wakes up to find themselves in a world of their own creation kind of fits both models.

Finally - and this is the one where I get to be extra sciencey - maybe the people and societies of all of these worlds actually branched off from the same original lineage.

I really like this one.  It's possible that some of the roots of my obsession(?) with it can be traced to the notion in DC Comics that ancient Atlanteans are connected not only to the Warlord's home of Skartaris, but possibly also to current (or near-current) populations of Kryptonians, Rannians, and Thanagarians.  I even worked some details of this idea into the very background of the Paleolithic adventure I ran a couple of years ago (in the overarching potential headcanon, at least).  And really...connecting Atlantis-type mythology, our interactions with other ancient human species, and the potential for plane-hopping adventures...well, that's all pretty much in my wheelhouse!

I call it the Fantasy Diaspora - or Fantaspora - Hypothesis...a proposal that the many interconnected fantasy worlds of our fiction and gaming are populated by descendants of ancient inhabitants from our very own Earth.  It sounds awfully pretentious, and it's probably been done before, and I love it.

As always, hopefully more to come...

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Department of Monstrous Matters

Hmm.  I'm thinking about trying to give this blog more of an identity.  Something beyond "whatever I'm obsessing about at the moment."  Which, I suppose, is the beauty of a personal blog.  But...well, I wonder if a default focus might help to keep me more...well, focused...?  Hmm again.

Anyway, this is an idea that I've thrown around in my head for years...and am playing with for inspiration now...

Dragon head icon by Faithtoken, licensed via CC BY 3.0

Hopefully more to come...

Sunday, July 23, 2023

5E Kamigawa NEO by /u/letterephesus is incredible

In thinking about the little project I'm working(?) on over at PermaDeath.Net, one of the commercial game settings I'm undoubtedly drawing on as I imagine the Asciiverse is the world presented in last year's MTG set Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.  I have very fond memories of the original Kamigawa Block; it came at one of the highest points of my involvement in organized MTG, and in some ways it shows the early stages of the designers' approach to worldbuilding in which they take a theme and work out what an MTG world - that is, somewhat fantasy based with a nod to the color pie that defines MTG's ethics and magic - based upon that theme would look like.

In this case, the focus was Japanese mythology, history, and religion, and I really dug the flavor.  I've no doubt there are some Orientalist overtones...or at least undertones...but it was still a series of three sets (an old MTG block) with a setting that I enjoyed and hoped to go back to.  When the return to the plane was announced, and I realized that it was getting a cyberpunk update, I knew we were probably in for something pretty cool.

Now that I'm pondering a setting that shares some of the same thematic DNA, I'm even more drawn to some of the imagery from the set that hints at its fantasy + cyberpunk roots.  So, I figured I'd take a quick look and see what's out there as far as 5E interpretations of Kamigawa in the NEO era.

And...well, holy cow, I don't know that I need to look any farther than the first one that popped up for me.  Gabe Rodriguez, aka /u/letterephesus on Reddit, has shared his take on Neon Dynasty, and it's awesome.  The book he put together could be used to run a spectacular campaign in this techno-fantasy realm and is a lot of fun to just jump around and read through.

The direct GMBinder link is HERE, and I hope that if you follow it, you also take a moment to look at some of Gabe's other work either via the Reddit thread where this book was shared or his Patreon.  (And if anyone thinks I shouldn't link directly from here, please just let me know and I'll correct it.)  Turns out he's covered a number of MTG settings that haven't (yet?) gotten the official treatment from WotC with his patron supported effort Planeshifted...from what I can see, there could be hours of entertainment just browsing through the work he's done.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Journey with me into the Asciiverse!


When you have one oft-neglected geek blog, what's the best way to build up momentum?  Why, start working on a completely different blog, of course!

With quite a bit of outside help, I'm finally taking some time to detail the "retrocyberdungeonpunk" setting I wrote a little about way back when.  There's just a tiny "team" plugging away at it, but the first few posts have gone up quickly, and it's been a lot of fun to think about and work on.

The high concept/cliché is a world Inside a Computer System, obviously influenced by TRON, but also taking cues from classic ASCII-based roguelike games and fantasy gaming in general (e.g., of course, D&D).  I know the premise isn't too far from the old Fantasy Flight d20 game Virtual, but I hope there's enough ground to cover that the repeated elements can simply be seen as a tribute to that game (which is very cool and which I recommend checking out, btw).

At any rate, please head over to PermaDeath.Net if you'd like to see what's being built.  Hope to keep adding more on the regular...!

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Average Joes #1: Joel Embiid

A somewhat random thought that struck me lately:  We, as humans in an ostensibly civilized society, sure spend a lot of time and energy trying to determine if we're normal...and if we're not, if we fall into a band of abnormality that's deemed "good" or at the very least "not bad."

Those of us who spend more time than we probably should thinking about RPG stats often encounter the question of what "normal" really means.  What are normal stats for a human?  Is normal the same as average?  Where do we want our PCs to fall on the spectrum of normality, and how do the rules support that implication?

I have become a fan of the notion that, in class-based RPGs like D&D, most regular/normal/average folks can be described without class levels.  Gaining levels in a class is something reserved for the outstanding among us...or for those who satisfy a more metaphysical measure of ability to drive the narrative of the universe.  The difference between a human with class levels and one without can become a very subjective distinction, not based on intrinsic capability but on importance to the story currently being told.

Now, this is the part of the blog post where I start the pivot into just talking about one of my toys.

Okay, so the NBA season ended just a couple of weeks ago, with the Denver Nuggets taking their first-ever title after defeating the Miami Heat at home.  Now, sports in general, and perhaps basketball in particular, lend themselves to assessments of good/better/best.  There's a lot of talk right now about how Finals MVP Nikola Jokic stacks up against the best to ever play the game.  And during the regular season, there was a lot of talk about how Jokic stacks up against the other "best" players currently in the league, specifically Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid (whose likeness is pictured above).

Jokic was the league's regular-season MVP the past two seasons.  The two years before that, it was Giannis.  And this year, it was Embiid.  Some pundits seemed to believe that Joel took the title this year just because it was his "turn," and that he wasn't necessarily better than Jokic or Giannis.  And really, it kinda seemed like it could be any of those three players, and no one could argue too much.

BUT...everyone loves to talk about how the MVP is a regular-season award, and most basketball fans look to the postseason for that extra factor that separates the great from the very good.  Jokic absolutely killed it this postseason.  And Embiid, while he had his moments, ultimately didn't demonstrate next-level greatness in the minds of most fans.  As someone who has slowly, and somewhat inadvertently, found myself becoming more and more of a Philadelphia sports fan (the 76ers especially) now that I live in Jersey, I disliked this for multiple reasons.  I wanted the Sixers to win, for one.  And Embiid has become one of my favorite players, so I especially didn't enjoy the immediate dismissal of his abilities by so many people when the team was eliminated by the Celtics.

Now...for an RPG, is Joel Embiid a normal human?  I mean...clearly he is not normal physically.  He's seven feet tall and extremely gifted athletically.  And clearly his presence and actions are more notable to the world at large than they are for most of us regular folks.  If he stepped into a D&D world, would he need class levels to highlight how awesome he is?  Or can he just be a guy with a Background, like you and me...but with some pretty impressive STR and DEX, no doubt.

Seriously, I'm getting to the toy part...

A little while back, spurred in part by my recently renewed interest in 3 3/4" action figures, I couldn't resist picking up this Joel Embiid ReAction Figure from Super7.

I had heard that these figures were intended to be properly sized for the scale they're in...and since the 3 3/4" scale typically defaults to 1:18 - but those don't really match up perfectly - I wanted to see how tall they made a seven foot dude.

First, a note...the figure unfortunately came with one leg a bit longer than the other, which I'm pretty sure isn't a reflection of Joel's actual anatomy.  I am definitely a ReAction figure apologist when it comes to folks' complaints about their limited articulation in a world where we often expect much more.  BUT...these things are at a price point where I would hope QC issues like this would be minimal.  Anyway, I'm not complaining (too much), but definitely noting it.

From the bottom of the sole of his right shoe (on the longer leg) to the point where I think the top of his head would be, he's about 4 3/16".  If I go with an even 7' for his height, that puts the scale of the figure at about 1:20.  FWIW, at this scale, a 3.75" figure would be about 6'3", which probably isn't too far off for some of the physically imposing characters that have been turned into figures at this standard scale...and in some cases may be a bit low (I'm looking at you, Roadblock).  And at the very least, it's as good as calling the scale 1:18, which would put a 3.75" guy at under 5'8"...for most characters, not ridiculous but not particularly close either.

In the end, I suppose the best case scenario may have been just to have always had this classic action figure scale at "true" 1:18, with 4"=6' and no worrying about "close enough."  Thanks to some combination of Micronauts, Adventure People, Star Wars, and maybe a few others, though, that just isn't the way history was written, and action figure scales are a bit quirkier and maybe even more fun because of it.

Oh what about all that talk about what it means to be average...?  Well, obviously I've gotta stat Joel out for gaming, but I'm not sure if it's fair to just make him a regular guy.  I know his recent detractors would agree with that decision after his less-than-transcendent playoff run. least one former NBA MVP has gone on to superheroic adventures...and truly, Embiid is a unicorn of physical maybe it's selling him short to stop at a Background.

For now, I'm going to let Mr. Embiid be the first step in what I hope will be a number of small explorations of being average...or normal...or a D&D-statted world.  I've seen that it actually works in gaming...and would like to try rolling with regular folks in 5E-based pickup games more often.

One thing, though...if I use the Elite Athlete Background I posted on here a while back (and of course I'm going to!), I think I've gotta give him at least one extra proficiency just to make sure he's covered as far as communications go.  Apparently he's fluent in 3-5 different languages...!

Joel Embiid

Human, Elite Athlete (Basketball)

STR        DEX        CON       INT         WIS        CHA
18(+4)    16(+3)    15(+2)    15(+2)     12(+1)     12(+1)
HP 7 (1d8+2)    Move 30 ft. (6 units)
Attack Bonuses (with proficiency)  +6 melee, +5 ranged
Skills:  Athletics, Perception
Tools:  Weights, Basketball Equipment
Languages: Basaa, French, English, plus a couple more...?
Saves:  None
Weapons:  None
Armor:  None

(This is who Joel's looking at up there, btw...)

(Not gonna turn down that chance to show off my vintage Crimson Guard figure...)

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Cobra Trooper Week Part III - Hat Trick!

Finally rounding out the Cobra fireteam that I displayed about a week and a half ago, here's a tough guy from north of the border...

Hat Trick

Cobra Trooper 

Carter Fitzpatrick
Code Name:  Hat Trick
Primary Military Specialty:  Infantry
Secondary Military Specialties:  Sabotage, Self-Defense Instructor
Birthplace:  Blainville, Quebec, Canada

Class:  Soldier 1
Background:  Elite Athlete (Ice Hockey)
STR        DEX        CON       INT         WIS        CHA
14(+2)    10(--)     14(+2)     8(-1)       8(-1)      9(-1)
HP 10 (1d10+2)    Move 30 ft. (6 units)
Attack Bonuses (with proficiency)  +4 melee, +2 ranged
Skills:  Athletics, Intimidation, Demolitions, Insight
Tools:  Weights, Hockey Equipment, Land Vehicles
Languages: English, French
Saves:  Strength, Constitution
Weapons:  Simple weapons, handguns, two-handed small arms, heavy weapons, super heavy weapons
Armor:  All armor, shields

Legend in This Town:  Has achieved some fame as an athlete and can sometimes leverage this to his advantage.

Infantry Training:  Treats effects of exhaustion as if they were one level lower.

Hat Trick has always loved one thing more than anything else in the world: fighting.  Hockey is second.  Beer is third.  He's pretty good at all of them.

On the ice, Hat Trick consistently showed enough skill to garner the attention of pro scouts and was signed to a minor league contract.  Most of his time as a professional, however, was spent as an enforcer, and his fists got a lot more use than his stick.

While playing for a team in Manitoba, Hat Trick had an exceptionally good offensive performance one night, scoring three goals in a road game vs. the Springfield Blades.  Just behind the team's bench, three Dreadnoks happened to be in attendance, cursing his every move on the ice as it worked against the big money they had bet on the Blades.

When they confronted him after the game, Hat Trick made short work of all three of them.  A Cobra recruiter accompanying them was both entertained and impressed enough to convince Hat Trick to join his team for a chance at a real payday.  So far, he has worked to train other Cobra recruits in his scrapping style.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Cobra Trooper Week Part II - Apostle!

Part of my first Cobra fireteam with Blast Beat, Apostle is an original '83/'84 swivel-arm Cobra soldier that ended up in my collection as a kid.  I word it this way because I really don't remember getting it...I had an original '82 straight-arm version, and then somehow over the course of my G.I. Joe playing career, this guy ended up among the rest of my figures.  Maybe it was given to me?  A friend's figure that got mixed up with mine, and then was never requested back because it's such a minor character?  Maybe I traded for it?  A sign of my age, I suppose...I truly don't recall.  But I could probably be convinced that I remember any of those scenarios.

As a true old-school trooper, this seemed like a great figure to take on the Acolyte background from 5E.  As the only background put into the original 5E SRD (meant to serve as an example for others' work), I think it's also the only one that made it into the rules that Wizards of the Coast released this year under a Creative Commons license.  It just felt like a good match with an original figure.


Cobra Trooper 

Josiah Bell
Code Name:  Apostle
Primary Military Specialty:  Infantry
Secondary Military Specialty:  Sabotage
Birthplace:  Scottsboro, Alabama
Class:  Soldier 2
Background:  Acolyte
STR        DEX        CON       INT         WIS        CHA
11(--)    10(--)     16(+3)     11(--)     10(--)     17(+3)
HP 16 (2d10+6)    Move 30 ft. (6 units)
Attack Bonuses (with proficiency)  +2 melee, +2 ranged
Skills:  Insight, Religion, Animal Handling, Demolitions
Tools:  Land Vehicles
Languages: English, Spanish, Hebrew, Aramaic
Saves:  Strength, Constitution

Weapons:  Simple weapons, handguns, two-handed small arms (expertise), heavy weapons, super heavy weapons
Armor:  All armor, shields

Shelter of the Faithful:  May receive assistance from those who share his faith.

Infantry Training:  Treats effects of exhaustion as if they were one level lower.

Specialty:  Two-Handed Small Arms

Apostle grew up attending a snake-handling church in the rural American South.  Upon being introduced to the more esoteric teachings of Golobulus and the Cobra-La, he began to syncretize the two belief systems and ultimately found his way to Cobra as a religiously devoted recruit.

While not the most skilled of warriors, Apostle's belief that his work for Cobra is in service to a higher cause makes him a most formidable enemy.